Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: December 2011

Gio. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Gio. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

December is a wonderful month for baseball rumors. It’s also a terrible month for baseball rumors. The first half of December is usually insane, thanks largely to the annual Winter Meetings. Then, around the holidays, things die down completely and it’s total silence for, like, two weeks. So it’s a big rush of rumors and then … nothing.

Our MLBTR Archive series now takes us to December 2011. The Yankees signed CC Sabathia to an extension back in October, before he could use his opt-out, but they still needed to add pitching. They managed to win 97 games with a rotation held together by Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in 2011, and no one wanted to bank on them doing it again in 2012. Let’s dive into the December 2011 rumors.

December 1st, 2011: AL East Notes: Valentine, Wilson, Howell, Johnson

The Yankees turned down a request by C.J. Wilson‘s agent for a visit to Yankee Stadium, reports ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand.  That’s not a good sign for Wilson’s chances of signing with the Bombers, which Marchand believes are “less than five percent.”

At the time, I thought Wilson was a really nice fit for the Yankees. Lefties who can miss bats and get ground balls tend to mix well with Yankee Stadium. There were some silly off-the-field concerns with Wilson — he was pretty active on social media and folks thought that wouldn’t go over well in New York — but mostly the Yankees didn’t want to commit huge dollars to another pitcher after extending Sabathia. Declining a visit to the ballpark though? Geez. I guess the Yankees didn’t want Wilson and his agent to use them to drive up their price.

December 2nd, 2011: Heyman On Braves, Wilson, Reyes, Astros, Minaya

The Yankees have looked at free agent left-hander Mike Gonzalez.

There was a time, between Mike Stanton and Boone Logan, in which the Yankees were completely unable to find a reliable lefty reliever. Whenever a southpaw popped up around the league and had a modicum of success, he was instantly connected to the Yankees in trade talks. Damaso Marte? Gotta have him. Scott Downs? Get him too. Brian Fuentes? Eddie Guardado? B.J. Ryan? Bring ’em all to me.

Mike Gonzalez was that guy for me. He was phenomenal for the Pirates from 2004-06 (2.08 ERA and 2.58 FIP) before landing in Atlanta in 2007 (1.59 ERA and 3.12 FIP). Gonzalez had some ups and downs from 2008-11, and by time free agency rolled around following the 2011 season, he was coming off a year with a 4.39 ERA (4.11 FIP). The Brewers signed him that offseason, he pitched to a 4.68 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 2012, and that was it. Never pitched in MLB again. Gonzalez was my white whale for a few years. I wanted him in pinstripes so bad. Alas.

December 3rd, 2011: Six Teams Pursuing Luis Ayala

There are six teams in on free agent reliever Luis Ayala, tweets Jim Bowden of ESPN XM radio, including the Mets, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Angels and Red Sox.

The Yankees did a nice job finding Ayala during the 2010-11 offseason. The former Expos setup man had missed a few years with injury, and he was trying to get himself noticed in winter ball that offseason, which is when the Yankees saw him. They gave Ayala a minor league deal and he rewarded them with a 2.09 ERA (4.19 FIP) in 56 middle relief innings. Not too shabby, eh?

After that 2011 season, I remember saying the Yankees should let Ayala walk because he was 34 with a history of arm problems, and I prefer to let guys like that go a year too early rather than a year too late. It was a year too early. The Orioles signed Ayala to a one-year contract and he threw 75 innings of 2.64 ERA (3.67 FIP) ball in 2012. Womp womp. Middle relief wasn’t the problem with the 2012 Yankees anyway.

Ayala broke down following his first season with the Orioles and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2013. He is still active though, believe it or not. He had a 3.56 ERA in 43 innings for a pair of Mexican League teams in 2016.

December 5th, 2011: White Sox Have Big Demands For Danks, Floyd

The White Sox are asking for big returns for starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post.  The Yankees like Danks, tweets SI’s Jon Heyman, but they’re unwilling to meet Chicago’s request of top prospects Manny Banuelos and Jesus Montero.  In fact, Heyman says the Yankees wouldn’t trade either for Danks.

At the time, Danks was only one year from free agency, so trading Banuelos or Montero for him would have been nuts. He was good (3.77 ERA and 3.89 FIP from 2008-11) but you can’t trade one of the best prospects in baseball (at the time) for one year of a guy like Danks. The White Sox didn’t trade Danks and instead signed him to a five-year extension worth $65M later in December.

Danks pre-extension: 4.03 ERA (112 ERA+) and 4.14 FIP in 917.2 innings
Danks since extension: 4.92 ERA (81 ERA+) and 4.83 FIP in 585.2 innings

He blew out his shoulder capsule nine starts into the 2012 season, year one of that five-year contract, and hasn’t been the same since. Pitchers, man.

December 6th, 2011: AL West Rumors: Bailey, Jackson, Gonzalez, Rangers

The Athletics are looking for young, high-upside outfielders in any Gio Gonzalez trade, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post. The Yankees may have to consider a three-team deal if they want to acquire the lefty, since they don’t have any outfielders in the high minors that fit that bill.

The Yankees had some high upside outfield prospects at the time — Mason Williams, Ravel Santana, and Slade Heathcott were all among their top ten prospects at the time, according to Baseball America — but they were all in the very low minors. Not the kind of guys who could headline a package for a good young pitcher like Gio.

Of course, the A’s wound up getting no outfielders in the Gonzalez trade later that offseason. They received a catcher (Derek Norris) and three pitchers (A.J. Cole, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock) from the Nationals, so maybe the Yankees didn’t need outfielders to get it done. Seems like the Athletics determined they weren’t going to get the outfielders they wanted, so they took what they considered the best possible package. And as is often the case with the A’s nowadays, that package was more quantity than quality.

December 6th, 2011: Nationals Center Field Rumors

The Yankees shot down the Nationals’ attempts to trade for Brett Gardner, according to Pete Kerzel of MASNSports.com.

The Nats were just starting to rise to prominence at that time. They went 69-93 in 2010 but had some good young players. Then, in 2011, they made the jump to 80-81. It looked like they were ready to take another step forward in 2012 — and they did, they went 98-64 that year — but they needed a new center fielder. Rick Ankiel was their primary center fielder in 2011 and he stunk. Great story, below-average player.

Gardner, who was only 27 at the time and three years from free agency, hit .259/.345/.369 (97 wRC+) in 2011 while playing his usually strong defense. It’s not a shock the Nationals walked him. The Yankees wouldn’t budge and Washington never did acquire a center fielder that offseason. They started the 2012 season with Ankiel in center field before deciding to make a change in April, when they called up a young prospect named Bryce Harper. Worked out well, I’d say.

December 7th, 2011: Cashman: “I Think It’s Going To Be Hard To Add”

Yankees GM Brian Cashman told Jack Curry of the YES Network that he’s not optimistic about making a trade or signing a free agent (Twitter link). Said Cashman, “I think its going to be hard to add.”

Didn’t Cashman say pretty much the same thing at the Winter Meetings last week? Well, no, not exactly now that I look back through the archives, but close enough. From Wednesday’s Winter Meeting open thread:

11:00am: Cashman reiterated he doesn’t expect to land a starter at the Winter Meetings. “I don’t anticipate it. It’s a tough market and the price tags are extremely high. We could play on a lot of things because we have a lot of prospects people desire and we desire them, too. I would say it’s less likely for us to acquire a starter,” said the GM. [King]

Close enough. Every offseason Cashman seems to say he doesn’t expect to do something. He said it last offseason. It’s just one of those things GMs say. The Yankees did end up doing something during the 2011-12 offseason, but not until later in the winter. This was the Michael Pineda trade/Hiroki Kuroda signing offseason.

December 7th, 2011: Yankees Willing To Assume $8MM In Burnett Trade

The Yankees will listen to offers for starter A.J. Burnett, reports George A. King III of the New York Post, and they’re willing to assume $8MM of the $33MM owed to him for 2012-13. 

The Yankees wound up eating $20M of the $33M left on Burnett’s contract. Eating only $8M of that contract was a pipe dream given how poorly Burnett pitched from 2010-11. Still, saving $13M is better than nothing. If not for the 2009 World Series, the Burnett signing would have gone done as one of the team’s worst in recent history. No doubt about it. Flags fly forever though.

December 8th, 2011: Overnight Links: Wise, Gonzalez, Fielder, Rule 5

The Yankees are discussing a minor league deal with outfielder Dewayne Wise, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter).

The Yankees did eventually sign Wise to a minor league deal. He started the year in Triple-A Scranton, and, not so fun fact: he was the guy the team called up when Mariano Rivera blew out his ACL on the Kauffman Stadium warning track. The Yankees were carrying eight relievers at the time and Nick Swisher was banged up, which is why they called up Wise and not another arm.

Anyway, the thing I remember most about Wise’s tenure with the Yankees was his non-catch in the stands along the left field foul line:

Ah yes, the good ol’ pre-instant replay days, when umpires could be lazy as hell and teams had no recourse. At least now there’s some more accountability.

Wise went 16-for-31 (.262) with three homers in only 63 plate appearances with the Yankees in 2012. He got called up when Rivera got hurt and released when the Yankees traded for Ichiro Suzuki. His short stint in pinstripes was bookended by two future Hall of Famers.

December 8th, 2011: Angels Want Pujols And Wilson

ESPN’s Buster Olney says that the Yankees are not the mystery team that’s trying to set up a Pujols deal (Twitter link). That makes sense, given that Mark Teixeira has a full no-trade clause in his contract.

There was a “the Yankees are the mystery team on Albert Pujols!” conspiracy theory going around five years that never really made sense. The Yankees did have an opening at DH, so they could have stuck Pujols there, but why would you spend so much on a DH? Especially when there was a very good chance Alex Rodriguez — or even Teixeira — would need to finish his contract at DH? The Yankees signing Pujols was a fun idea that never made a lick of sense.

By the way, checked out that MLBTR headline. “Angels Want Pujols And Wilson.” Well, they got them. The Halos have paid those two a combined $175M over the last five years for +17.4 fWAR and +19.9 bWAR. They still owe Pujols another $140M over the next five years too. Goodness.

December 8th, 2011: 2011 Rule 5 Draft Results

5. Royals take Cesar Cabral from Red Sox; traded to Yankees for cash.
29. Yankees take Brad Meyers from Nationals.

The Yankees haven’t made a Rule 5 Draft pick since taking Meyers from the Nats. He hurt his shoulder during an offseason workout soon after the Rule 5 Draft and didn’t pitch at all in 2012. The Yankees eventually returned him to Washington. Meyers spent the 2013-14 seasons with the Nationals and an an independent league. He hasn’t pitched at all since 2014.

Cabral, on the other hand, very nearly made the Yankees out of Spring Training in 2012. He broke his elbow at the end of March though, and missed the entire season. That opened the door for Clay Rapada to make the Opening Day roster. The Yankees kept Cabral on the 40-man roster during the 2012-13 offseason, rehabbed him, and once he got healthy, they were able to outright him to Triple-A and keep him in the organization. The Red Sox, his original team, didn’t take him back.

As a September call-up in 2013, Cabral struck out six of the nine left-handed batters he faced, and seemed to be putting himself in position for a 2014 bullpen job. It never came together. The Yankees released Cabral after his infamous three hit batsmen appearance against the Rays in April 2014. Cabral did get back to the show with the Orioles in 2015, and he spent the entire 2016 season in their farm system. He’s still only 27, and since he’s left-handed, I’m guessing he’ll be able to hang around for a few more years.

December 8th, 2011: AL East Notes: Eyre, Jeroloman, Golson, Miller, Rays

The Yankees are close to signing former Indians prospect Adam Miller to a minor league deal, tweets Sherman. Miller ranked among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects for five straight years from 2005 to 2009.

I was irrationally excited about the Miller signing. He was once a top pitching prospect — Miller topped out at No. 16 on Baseball America’s top 100 list in 2004 — whose career was derailed by injuries. Not shoulder or elbow injuries though. Miller had all sorts of ligament and tendon problems in his right middle finger that required surgery and other treatment. His finger now hooks at the end because he can’t fully extend it:

(Photo via TheClevelandFan.com)
(Photo via TheClevelandFan.com)

Miller was unable to grip the ball properly with the hook and he lost the hellacious breaking ball that once made him one of the game’s top pitching prospects. He had a 4.96 ERA (4.15 FIP) in 49 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with the Yankees in 2012. Miller was still active as recently as 2015, though it doesn’t appear he pitched anywhere this past season. Sucks. Poor guy spent all those years as a top prospect and was never called up to the big leagues. He didn’t get that affordable health care for life.

December 9th, 2011: Yankees Haven’t Made Offer To Hiroki Kuroda

9:59am: While no offer has been made, the Yankees indeed “like Kuroda very much,” according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link). 

8:13am: The Yankees have offered Hiroki Kuroda a one-year contract worth approximately $12MM in U.S. dollars, reports Japanese news outlet Sponichi (passed on by Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues).

This was the first time we heard the Yankees connected to Kuroda that offseason. I was a huge fan and wrote a bunch about trying to get him in the previous months. I was hoping the Yankees could swing a trade to get him at the 2011 trade deadline, but alas, Kuroda said he was unwilling to waive his no-trade clause and leave his family.

Anyway, the Yankees shot down that Sponichi report — I rarely pass along those overseas reports I have to run through Google Translate now because I got burned by this Kuroda rumor — but did eventually sign Kuroda later in the offseason. He got $10M, not $12M. That one worked out well, I’d say.

December 9th, 2011: Minor Moves: Bianchi, Threets, Gallagher, Atilano

The Yankees have designated Colin Curtis for assignment, tweets MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch.  The move creates space on New York’s 40-man roster for Freddy Garcia, whose signing was made official today.  Curtis, a fourth-round draft pick in 2006, has 64 Major League plate appearances to his name.

Colin Curtis! He was part of New York’s great 2006 draft class, which produced ten big leaguers, including seven with staying power: Ian Kennedy (first round), Joba Chamberlain (supplemental first), Zach McAllister (third), Colin Curtis (fourth), George Kontos (fifth), Dellin Betances (eighth), Mark Melancon (ninth), Daniel McCutchen (13th), David Robertson (17th), and Kevin Russo (20th). Nearly +60 bWAR worth of players right here.

Anyway, Curtis had a few stints with the Yankees in 2010. He hit his only career home run as a replacement for Brett Gardner, who was ejected in the middle of an at-bat for arguing balls and strikes. Curtis came off the bench and socked a dinger.

About a week later Curtis had a hand in that insane comeback against the Dodgers, when the Yankees broke Jonathan Broxton. This game. Curtis actually drove in the game-tying run with a ground ball. A shoulder injury sidelined him during the entire 2011 season, so he was never called up that year. Curtis split 2012 between Triple-A Scranton and an independent league, and he hasn’t played since.

December 10th, 2011: Yankees Win Rights To Hiroyuki Nakajima

11:34am: The Yankees won the bid for about $2MM, tweets Jon Heyman.  Noting Nakajima’s preference to play for a West Coast team, Rosenthal wonders if he’ll be willing to be a utility player for the Yankees.

Oh man, I forgot about Hiroyuki Nakajima. He was 29 at the time and coming off a season in which he hit .297/.354/.433 with 16 home runs and 21 steals for the Seibu Lions. It was a surprise when the Yankees won his negotiating rights with a $2M bid. Most expected him to fetch more.

Contract talks did not go well. The Yankees saw Nakajima as a utility infielder and wanted to pay him accordingly. Also, they wanted six full years of control through pre-arbitration and arbitration, like most players. Nakajima’s camp balked and there was some talk of a sign-and-trade, but that never happened. He returned to Seibu for another year, hit .311/.382/.451 in 2012, then signed a two-year deal worth $6.5M with the Athletics as a true free agent during the 2012-13 offseason.

In his two seasons with the A’s, Nakajima never made it out of Triple-A, and hit .267/.326/.356 in 175 minor league games during that two-year deal. Seems the Yankees were right about him being nothing more than a utility guy. Nakajima returned to Japan after his contract with the A’s expired. He hit .290/.346/.439 with eight homers for the Orix Buffaloes in 2016.

I remember folks saying the contentious negotiations with Nakajima would hurt the Yankees in the future because no Japanese player would want to sign with them. L-O-L. As if this was the first contract negotiation to turn ugly. They’re the Yankees. No agent in their right mind would allow their client to rule the Yankees out as a potential landing spot because the club’s pockets are so deep.

December 14th, 2011: Bidding Period For Yu Darvish Ends

The Yankees’ bid is modest, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (on Twitter). Indications are the winning bid is “sky high.”

Eventually word got out the Yankees bid somewhere close to $20M. The Rangers bid $51.7M, which reportedly blew everyone else out of the water. They had the high bid by a mile. The Yankees supposedly had some concerns about Darvish and New York, which I thought was kinda silly. The guy was a rock star in Japan. He was used to the attention. And, of course, he’s shown he can thoroughly dominate MLB hitters these last few years. Me thinks the Yankees would like a do over on Darvish. Their evaluation was off the mark.

December 22nd, 2011: Indians, Others Have Inquired On Nick Swisher

The Indians are one of several clubs that has called the Yankees about Nick Swisher, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti, a finalist for free agent Carlos Beltran, is also considering trades to improve his club’s offense. 

The Yankees never did trade Swisher that offseason and it wouldn’t have made sense anyway. The Yankees were still a legitimate contender at the time and he was one of their most productive players. It’s not like the team had a young right fielder waiting in the wings.

The Swisher acquisition goes down as one of the best moves of the Cashman era. Here’s the timeline:

  • November 13th, 2008: Yankees acquire Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira from the White Sox for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez.
  • 2009-12: Swisher hits .268/.367/.483 (128 wRC+) and averages 26 homers and 150 games played per season. The Yankees paid him $31.6M for +14.6 fWAR and +11.5 bWAR.
  • 2013: Swisher declined the qualifying offer and the Yankees used the compensation draft pick to select Aaron Judge.

All transactions should work out that well.

December 23rd, 2011: AL East Links: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Jones Beltran

The Yankees considered pursuing Carlos Beltran earlier this offseason according to Bob Klapisch of The Bergen Record (on Twitter), but ultimately decided against it because of his balky knees.

The Yankees during the 2011-12 offseason: We can’t sign Beltran because his knees are too risky.

The Yankees during the 2013-14 offseason: Okay fine here’s a three-year contract.

The Beltran signing worked out about as well as the Yankees could have hoped considering his knees were still a concern and he was about to turn 37. Too bad they only played one postseason game during his three years in pinstripes, though that’s not Beltran’s fault.

December 28th, 2011: Yankees To Sign Hideki Okajima

The Yankees agreed to a minor league deal with reliever Hideki Okajima, tweets David Waldstein of the New York Times.  Earlier, Sports Hochi in Japan reported talks between the two parties were in the final stages and a deal could be reached shortly after the new year (as translated by NPB Tracker’s Patrick Newman).

The token ex-Red Sox signing of the offseason. Okajima never actually played with the Yankees though. He failed his physical in Spring Training and was released. Okajima spent the 2012 season in Japan, tried one last time to make MLB work with the Athletics in 2013, then returned to Japan for the 2014-15 seasons. He’s retired now.

December 28th, 2011: Yankees Notes: A-Rod, Nakajima, Chavez, Andruw

Third baseman Alex Rodriguez recently traveled to Germany for an experimental therapy called Orthokine on his right knee, reported Mike Puma of the New York Post.  Orthokine is similar to Platelet Rich Plasma therapy, which reliever Takashi Saito had done several years ago.  The procedure, which was recommended by Kobe Bryant, came with the blessing of the Yankees and the commissioner’s office.  Puma explains, “Orthokine involves taking blood from the patient’s arm and spinning it in a centrifuge, a machine used in laboratories to spin objects around a fixed axis. The serum is then injected into the affected area.”  Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters the procedure was done on Rodriguez’s left shoulder as well.  For more on the topic, check out this article from Teri Thompson and Christian Red of the New York Daily News.

Oh man, A-Rod‘s experimental knee procedure was a Very Big Deal at the time, even though the Yankees and MLB both approved the treatment. A-Rod haters were convinced he was doing something against the rules. They said it was some kind of German super-PED. The internet tells me the difference between PRP and Orthokine involves the cells being isolated. PRP isolates red blood cells. Orthokine isolates white blood cells to produce a natural anti-inflammatory. The Yankees and MLB gave Rodriguez the okay, but it didn’t matter, there were many folks convinced it was somehow illegal.

December 30th, 2011: Olney’s Latest: Yankees, Ethier, Angels, Blue Jays

The Yankees have “quietly checked around” on possible right field alternatives to Nick Swisher as they prepare for his possible free agent departure after next season.

I was a big Nate Schierholtz guy. He was my idea for a long-term right fielder post-Swisher. Schierholtz hit .278/.326/.430 (112 wRC+) with nine homers in 362 plate appearances with the Giants in 2011, but there was some bad blood between him and the team over playing time, so they put him on the trade block. He was only 27 at the time and had three years of control left, so I figured he could help the Yankees as a part-time outfielder/part-time DH in 2012 before taking over in right field in 2013. Didn’t happen. Schierholtz bounce around a bit, hit 21 homers with a 109 wRC+ for the 2013 Cubs, and has spent time in Japan too. The Tigers stashed him in Triple-A all of this past season.

December 30th, 2011: Yankees Agree To Sign Andruw Jones

The Yankees and Andruw Jones have agreed to a one-year deal with a $2MM base salary and $1.4MM in incentives, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter links). The deal is pending a physical. The Yankees have a full 40-man roster and will need to clear a spot once the signing becomes official.

Jones was awesome for the Yankees in 2011, hitting .247/.356/.495 (132 wRC+) with 13 homers in 222 plate appearances. That includes a .286/.384/.540 (152 wRC+) batting line against lefties. For some reason, I’ll always remember Andruw drawing a 14-pitch walk with one out to start the Yankees’ go-ahead rally in the seventh inning of this game, Jesus Montero’s debut:

Andruw’s second season in pinstripes didn’t go nearly as well as the first. He hit .197/.294/.408 (89 wRC+) overall and .202/.294/.411 (88 wRC+) against lefties. Jones never played in MLB after that 2012 season. He went to Japan for a few years and will make his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot next year. I’m pretty sure I’d vote for him. Andruw was arguably the greatest defensive outfielder in history, and he hit over 400 homers. Borderline for sure considering he was done as an everyday player at 30, but I think I’d vote for him.

Few potential landing spots remain for Chase Headley

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

So far this offseason has been about addition and subtraction for the Yankees. They added Matt Holliday and Aroldis Chapman to improve the roster, but also subtracted Brian McCann to continue their rebuilding transitioning effort. The McCann trade with the Astros cleared up some payroll space and also netted the team two high upside Single-A pitching prospects.

The Yankees are still in addition and subtraction mode, based on everything we’ve heard the last few weeks. They still want to add pitching, starters and relievers, but they’re also looking to trade veterans. Specifically Brett Gardner and Chase Headley, who are basically their last two tradeable veteran position players. The Dexter Fowler and Adam Eaton deals mean not many suitors exist for Gardner.

For Headley, the market is appears to be even more limited, which is kinda weird because it’s much harder to find decent third base help than it is decent corner outfield help. In theory, anyway. Justin Turner has re-signed with the Dodgers, taking by far the best free agent third baseman off the market. Luis Valbuena is all that remains at this point, and he’s coming back from hamstring surgery.

Brian Cashman said at the Winter Meetings last week that he has rejected trade offers for Headley, though we don’t know the nature of those offers. They could have been “we’ll give you this fringe prospect if you eat a bunch of money” non-offers for all we know. Or maybe there were no offers and Cashman was trying to drum up interest. Who knows? Here are the few potential landing spots I’ve identified for Headley.

Atlanta Braves

Adonis. (Michael Thomas/Getty)
Adonis. (Michael Thomas/Getty)

Current Third Basemen: Adonis Garcia and Sean Rodriguez

Why Would They Want Headley? The Braves are doing all they can to be somewhat competitive next season, when they open SunTrust Park. They’ve signed R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon as free agents, and traded for Jaime Garcia to beef up the rotation. Third base is another problem area. Rodriguez was signed to be a utility player, and Garcia, the ex-Yankees farmhand, was worth +0.9 fWAR and +0.2 bWAR in close to a full season of playing time in 2016, so yeah.

Headley is not all that expensive by today’s standards, plus I’m sure the Yankees are at least open to the idea of eating some of the $26M he’s owed the next two years, so he’d be another low risk short-term upgrade for the Braves a la Colon and Dickey and Garcia. Rio Ruiz, who I covered in a Scouting The Market post earlier this winter, is their top third base prospect and there’s a chance he won’t be a third baseman at all. Headley’s an easy upgrade for Atlanta.

So Are They A Fit? Yes. The doesn’t mean the Braves want to trade for Headley, necessarily, but he would fit their roster and current plan.

Boston Red Sox

Current Third Basemen: Pablo Sandoval and Brock Holt

Why Would They Want Headley? The BoSox traded their starting third baseman (Travis Shaw) and third baseman of the future (Yoan Moncada) this offseason, leaving them with short and long-term openings at the hot corner. Sandoval is coming back from major shoulder surgery and was terrible last time he played. Holt fits best as a part-time utility guy, not a full-time corner infielder.

So Are They A Fit? Nah. Not realistically. Even beyond the unlikelihood of a Yankees-Red Sox trade, the Red Sox are probably best off seeing what they have in Sandoval at this point. They owe him a ton of money and it’s not going away.

St. Louis Cardinals

Current Third Baseman: Jhonny Peralta

Why Would They Want Headley? The Cardinals were in on Turner before he re-signed with the Dodgers because they’re looking for ways to improve their infield, especially defensively. Peralta really struggled at the hot corner this past season after losing his shortstop job to Aledmys Diaz. Matt Carpenter is moving to first base full-time for defensive reasons, and Headley would be an upgrade over Peralta at the hot corner. Pretty easily at this point of Peralta’s career too.

Peralta. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Peralta. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

So Are They A Fit? Yes, though I don’t think St. Louis is as gung-ho about adding a third baseman now that Turner is off the board. It seems like their thinking was “we can add Turner for just cash, and we’ve already given up out first rounder for Fowler, so let’s do it.” Trading pieces for Headley and then having to find a new home for Peralta might not be worth the trouble for the Cardinals.

San Francisco Giants

Current Third Baseman: Eduardo Nunez

Why Would They Want Headley? Like the Cardinals, the Giants dabbled in the market for Turner a few weeks ago, they were never as all-in as St. Louis. San Francisco has also reportedly considered a reunion with Sandoval, assuming they could get him from the Red Sox at an extremely discounted price. Third base help isn’t necessarily a top priority, though based on the rumors, the Giants do seem to be keeping an eye out for an upgrade over Nunez.

So Are They A Fit? Eh, maybe. The Giants are over the luxury tax threshold following the Mark Melancon signing, and they reportedly do not want to add significant payroll. That would stand in the way of a Headley trade, even if the Yankees ate some money. Also, left field is their biggest roster hole. If they’re going to take on dollars and go further over the luxury tax threshold, it’ll be for outfield help, not a marginal upgrade over Nunez at third.

* * *

Keep in mind trading Headley means the Yankees would have to come up with a replacement third baseman. They have plenty of outfielders to plug into left field should Gardner be traded, but they don’t have a ready made replacement third baseman. Ronald Torreyes and the recently signed Ruben Tejada would be the front-runners for the job. Maybe Rob Refsnyder too. Not great.

The Yankees are still trying to contend next season while continuing to get younger — you don’t sign a closer to an $86M contract and not plan on contending right away — and they’ll need competence at the hot corner themselves. Headley provides that. More than that, really, even if many fans don’t seem to want to admit it. If the Yankees can trade Headley for some prospects and salary relief, great. But they’ll likely be a worse team on the field afterwards, and based on their other offseason activity, that might not fly.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

It’s too early to starting thinking seriously about the 2017 draft, but, if you’re interested, MLB.com’s top 50 draft prospects is now live. The scouting reports are free. Keep in a mind a lot can and will change between now and the draft next June. The Yankees currently hold the 16th overall pick and will move up if the White Sox, Pirates, Marlins, Royals, or Astros sign a qualified free agent. That seems unlikely though. Mark Trumbo, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista are the only unsigned qualified free agents at the moment. Maybe the Astros spend big a first baseman. Who knows.

Anyway, here is the open thread for the evening. The Nets are playing and there are three college basketball games on the schedule. That’s about it. You’re on your own for entertainment otherwise. Talk about whatever here.

Wednesday Notes: IFA cap, Draft MRIs, Tommy John rehab, Under Armour

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

According to Ronald Blum, the owners voted and ratified the new Collective Bargaining Agreement last night. The vote was 29-1. Only Rays owner Stu Sternberg opposed. The MLBPA approved the CBA unanimously, the union announced, it’s a done deal. Officially official. Details of the new CBA are still trickling in, so here’s some big picture news from around the league.

Yankees have $4.75M to spend internationally

The new CBA has implemented a hard cap on international free agents, and according to Ben Badler, the Yankees will have a $4.75M pool during the 2017-18 signing period. That’s what I figured based on everything we heard in the days following the CBA announcement, but now it’s official. The Yankees and every other team can trade for additional 75% in cap space. That works out to an extra $3.5625M. Now they have to find someone willing to trade cap space.

The bonus pools are based on market size now, not reverse order of the standings. Sixteen of the 30 teams have a $4.75M pool. Six get $5.25M and eight get $5.75M. Each team also gets an unlimited number of $10,000 bonuses that do not count against the cap. Between the international hard cap and the draft pools and the stiff luxury tax rates, the Yankees are running out of ways to flex their financial muscle. Each new CBA seems to bring them closer to the rest of the pack in terms of spending capacity.

Draft prospects can now volunteer for MRIs

According to Jon Morosi, the top 50 draft pitching prospects can now undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI to show teams they’re healthy. (The top 50 are determined by the MLB Scouting Bureau, I assume.) I see this as a good thing for those players, for two reasons. For starters, this will help avoid a Brady Aiken situation, in which a team drafts a player, finds out he’s injured, then walks away and forfeits all that draft pool space. The MRIs help keep that money in play.

Secondly, it gives the player and his agent time to do damage control. If someone has an injury, it’s going to be discovered anyway. Either during the pre-draft MRI, or after the draft during the pre-signing MRI. If a pre-draft MRI shows an injury, it gives the agent time to shop the player around and find a team willing to sign him anyway. Those teams are definitely out there. If the player waits until after the draft to have the MRI, he can only negotiate with that one team. So yeah, it seems like volunteering for a pre-draft MRI carries a lot of risk, but ultimately, I think it’s a good thing for the players. Teams too.

Tommy John rehab stint extended to 60 days

As part of the new CBA, pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John surgery can now spend 60 days on a minor league rehab assignment, reports Jeff Passan. It used to be 30 days, though teams would dance around this by having the pitcher pitch in Extended Spring Training games, which aren’t official minor league games and don’t count against a rehab clock. Problem is there’s no ExST after June, so if your player is rehabbing in, say, August, you’re out of luck.

Once upon a time, the standard Tommy John surgery rehab timetable was 12 months. Not anymore. Nowadays teams are giving their pitchers 14-16 months to rehab, sometimes longer. There was a rash of pitchers needing a second Tommy John surgery a few years ago (Kris Medlen, Daniel Hudson, Brandon Beachy, Jarrod Parker, etc.) and the thought was they came back too soon from the first procedure. A 60-day rehab windows allows teams to be patient and give pitchers even more competitive minor league rehab starts. Good news.

Under Armour to become official uniform provider

At the Winter Meetings last week, MLB announced Under Armour will replace Majestic as the league’s official uniform provider beginning in 2020. It’s a ten-year agreement. “We are excited to build on our partnership with Under Armour, a powerful global brand that continues to grow exponentially … We appreciate Majestic’s many contributions to our clubs, players and fans throughout our partnership,” said commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement.

Okay, great. So MLB has a new uniform provider. Who cares, right? Well, according to Paul Lukas, as part of the agreement, Under Armour will be allowed to slap their logo on the upper right chest of all jerseys, like so:

under-armour-yankees-jersey

If you click through the Lukas link, he has some images of players with the Under Armour logo photoshopped onto their jerseys. The Majestic logo is currently on the sleeves of MLB jerseys. The Yankees were granted an exemption and are the only club without the Majestic logo on their uniform. That won’t be the case with Under Armour though. They’ll have the logo on their chest too.

It’s only a matter of time until full-blown advertisements wind up on MLB jerseys — I have no idea if that’s five years away, or ten, or 30, but they’re coming — and the Under Armour logo is step one. Well, I guess the Majestic logo was step one, but moving them to the front of the jersey is a pretty big deal. The New Era logo will now be displayed on the left side of all caps starting next season, Yankees included, so the #brands are coming. The iconic, untouched Yankees jersey of the last century will soon be no more.

The key to a Matt Holliday resurgence: Getting the ball airborne more often

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

A little more than a week ago, the Yankees landed their new veteran designated hitter by signing Matt Holliday to a one-year deal worth $13M. Carlos Beltran was reportedly the team’s first choice, but Beltran went to the Astros, so it was on to Plan B. I thought the Yankees were smart to avoid a big money DH like Edwin Encarnacion or Mark Trumbo, and instead go with Holliday on a one-year deal.

With the Cardinals this past season Holliday hit .246/.322/.461 (109 wRC+) with 20 homers in 426 plate appearances around a broken thumb caused by a hit-by-pitch. It was his worst offensive season since his rookie year back in 2004. The Yankees are hoping Holliday, who turns 37 next month, can bounce back for two reasons. One, he’ll be off his feet as the DH and won’t wear down physically. And two, exit velo. From my thoughts post:

3. One reason to expect Holliday’s numbers to bounce back next season: his .253 BABIP was by far a career low and well below his career .333 BABIP. That happened even though his hard contact rate (38.5%) was comfortably above the MLB average (31.4%) and his career average (35.6%). In fact, among the 375 players to put at least 100 balls in play this past season, Holliday had the third highest average exit velocity (94.7 mph). Only Nelson Cruz (95.9 mph) and Giancarlo Stanton (95.1 mph) were better. Miguel Cabrera (94.5 mph) was fourth. That is some good company. Also, according to Mike Petriello, Holliday put 42.5% of his balls in play at 100 mph or better, the fourth best rate in baseball. Exit velocity isn’t everything — it’s possible to hit a 100 mph pop-up, you know — but it’s not nothing either. Holliday can still strike the ball with authority. That suggests that .253 BABIP, which was so far out of line with the rest of his career, might not last.

Generally speaking, hit the ball hard and good things will happen. Defenders have less time to react and that’s good for the hitter, especially these days with fielders precisely positioned based on the hitter’s tendencies. Holliday did, by just about every publicly available metric, hit the ball hard in 2016. He didn’t get the results he wanted though, and according to Holliday, he hit too many grounders. In nerd terms, his launch angle was bad.

“Quite frankly, I probably hit too many hard-hit ground balls,” said Holliday to George King. “Nowadays with how good the infielders are, it’s not a good idea. I think if I can combine the exit velocity with a little bit more lift and have my misses be more in the air than on the ground, my numbers could really get back toward where they have been my whole career. I think it’s a good sign that the exit velocity was really high. I did have a little bit of bad luck, but that’s no excuse.”

This past season exactly half of Holliday’s balls in play were ground balls. His 50.0% grounder rate was a career high, up from 48.5% in 2015 and eclipsing his previous career high of 49.5% set back during his rookie year. Here is Holliday’s ground ball rate over the last three years:

matt-holliday-ground-balls

The plateaus in 2015 and 2016 are time missed to injury. In each of the last three seasons, Holliday began the year by beating the ball into the ground before starting to get it more airborne during the summer months. His overall ground ball rate is trending upward, but the injuries in 2015 (quad) and 2016 (thumb) robbed him of second half at-bats, when he was doing a better job of getting the ball in the air. That may be skewing his overall rate.

An increase in ground balls is a classic sign a player is losing bat speed. It happens to everyone at some point. As their bat slows, they don’t square the ball up quite as often, and that split-second is often the difference between a line drive and a ground ball. Holliday had some weird things going on statistically. The exit velocity indicates he hit the ball very hard overall. The career high grounder rate suggests something was still off.

Here are two heat maps showing pitch locations against Holliday. The brighter the red, the more pitches in that location. The brighter the blue, the fewer pitches in that location. The 2015 season is on the left. The 2016 season is on the right. You can click the image for a larger view.

matt-holliday-pitch-locations1

Holliday saw a lot more pitches down in the zone this past season than he did a year ago. His 2014 heat map looks like the 2015 heat map as well, meaning more pitches in the middle and not nearly as many down and away. The pitch selection against Holliday didn’t change all that much from 2015 to 2016. Just normal year-to-year fluctuations. When you see that many down and away pitches to a righty, you think slider, and Holliday saw 16.1% sliders in 2015. In 2016, it was 16.8%. His fastball rate went from 61.2% to 62.4%. A negligible difference.

Based on PitchFX, pitchers did not approach Holliday differently in terms of pitch selection. They just started pounding him down and away, and pitches in the bottom third of the zone are the hardest to lift in the air, hence the increase in ground ball rate. I love it when the puzzle pieces come together like that. It’s possible there is some small sample size noise in play here. The numbers are what they are though. Holliday did indeed see more pitches down and away.

Whether he sees that many pitches in that location next season, with the Yankees, is the next question, and it’s impossible to answer. This is a copycat league, and if Holliday has a hole down and away, pitchers are going to attack it. The thing is, Holliday is such a good natural hitter that he could make an adjustment. It’s not guaranteed to happen, but it’s possible. This guy isn’t a brute masher. He knows how to hit. After all, look at his spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

Matt Holliday spray chart

I can’t get enough of it. Power from foul pole to foul pole and base hits to all fields. All spray charts should look like that. You don’t spray the ball all around like Holliday without being a smart and adaptable hitter. After of a year of getting pounded with pitches down and away, Holliday might be better prepared to attack those pitches in 2016. The element of surprise is gone. At least that’s what I hope anyway.

Either way, the point stands. For Holliday to bounce back in pinstripes next season, he’ll have to hit the ball in the air more often than he did in 2016. That fact he was still hitting the ball hard is very good. The Yankees want him to continue doing that while improving his launch angle, so more of those 100+ mph batted balls fall in for hits. Whether he can make that adjustment at 37 years old remains to be seen. The fact Holliday has already acknowledged the ground ball problem is encouraging though, because he can begin to work on it right away.

This offseason is the best time for the Yankees to explore an extension with Masahiro Tanaka

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

By any measure, Masahiro Tanaka is not just the best starting pitcher on the Yankees, he’s one of the best starting pitchers in all of MLB. He’s New York’s best starter since CC Sabathia was in his prime, and their best right-handed starter since Mike Mussina was in his prime more than a decade ago. Tanaka turned 28 last month and is very much in what should be the best years of his career.

Looming next offseason is Tanaka’s opt-out clause, which will allow him to forego the final three years and $67M left on his contract and test free agency. Given the market for pitching these days, opting out is a certainty as long as Tanaka is healthy. Jeff Samardzija led the league in hits, earned runs, and home runs allowed back in 2015 and still landed a five-year deal worth $90M. I mean, come on.

A few years ago the Yankees dealt with Sabathia’s opt-out clause, which he leveraged into a contract extension. They added one guaranteed year to his original deal, plus a vesting option. The 2017 season is the vesting option year. Sabathia’s extension has not worked out as hoped, but that doesn’t mean you walk away from every pitcher with an opt-out. You have to consider these things on a case-by-case basis.

Signing Tanaka — again: one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball — to an extension has to be a consideration for the Yankees this offseason, before the opt-out comes into play. And before we go any further, let’s list some key differences between Tanaka now and Sabathia at the time of his opt-out:

  1. Age: Tanaka just turned 28 and will pitch all of next season at that age. Sabathia was 31 when he signed his extension and he turned 32 during the first season of the deal. Heck, Sabathia was as old as Tanaka is right now when he originally signed with the Yankees during the 2008-09 offseason. Pretty big difference in age, eh?
  2. Body Type: I love Sabathia, but the dude is 6-foot-7 and somewhere around 300 lbs., and that massive frame has taken its toll on his right (landing) knee. Not too many pitchers that size have pitched as deep into their 30s as Sabathia. He’s an outlier. Tanaka is far from it. We don’t have to bank on Tanaka being an outlier with his frame, because baseball history is littered with pitchers who stand 6-foot-3 and 215 lbs.
  3. Pitching Style: Sabathia at his peak was a pure power pitcher who dominated with a mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider. Tanaka is more of an artist. He doesn’t operate with overpowering velocity. He outsmarts hitters by commanding an array of offspeed pitches. That command and feel for pitching will ostensibly allow Tanaka to age gracefully, a la Andy Pettitte.

But Mike, what about the elbow? Ah yes, the elbow. The elbow that hangs over every pitch Tanaka throws and every blog post written about him. Tanaka suffered a partially torn elbow ligament in 2014, successfully rehabbed the injury, and has pitched to a 3.26 ERA (3.72 FIP) in 353.2 innings since. Turns out the doctors knew what they were talking about. Tanaka didn’t need Tommy John surgery. Weird.

Anyway, the fact Tanaka’s elbow has held up in the two years since the injury doesn’t mean the Yankees can simply ignore it when evaluating his long-term future. Health should play a pretty huge role in determining whether to sign a pitcher long-term. Three quick thoughts on the elbow:

1. The Yankees know Tanaka better than anyone. All we know about Tanaka’s elbow is what the Yankees have chosen to tell us. They know his health and the status of the elbow ligament better than anyone. We could sit here and say extending a pitcher with a bum elbow would be crazy, but the Yankees and their doctors are looking over the medicals, and they may feel comfortable long-term. Truth be told, stick any 28-year-old pitcher in an MRI tube and you’ll find something scary, including partial ligament tears. Many pitchers have them and don’t even know it because they’re asymptomatic.

2. There’s some give and take here. Would the Yankees be taking a risk signing Tanaka to an extension because of the elbow? Of course. And that risk should be reflected in the contract, either in terms of fewer years or (most likely) fewer dollars. There should be some give and take on both sides. That doesn’t mean Tanaka has to agree to a discount. He might say thanks but no thanks, I’ll try my luck at free agency, and I wouldn’t blame him one bit. But if he wants a big deal now, the Yankees will probably push for a slight discount given the elbow.

3. There are ways to build protection into the contract. A Lackey clause, specifically. When the Red Sox signed John Lackey to his five-year contract way back when, they included a clause in the deal that gave them a sixth year club option at the league minimum should Lackey have Tommy John surgery at some point during the life of the contract. He did and they picked up the option. Lackey had a preexisting ligament injury at the time of his signing and the league minimum option year was Boston’s way to protect themselves. The Yankees could apply a Lackey clause to a Tanaka extension, and again, he doesn’t have to accept it.

Alright, so after all of that, what will it take to sign Tanaka to an extension right now? I really have no idea what Tanaka and his agents will want. Ideally, the Yankees would tack something like two years and $50M on top of his current deal, but that essentially gives Tanaka and five-year deal worth $117M covering 2017-21. That’s not much better than Samardzija money. Unless Tanaka is truly concerned about his elbow, I can’t see him taking that. He’d beat that in free agency.

The Yankees might have to add something closer to three years and $90M to Tanaka’s contract to get his attention. Top free agent starters are getting $30M a year now, remember. Zack Greinke, David Price, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer are all there right now. If the Red Sox approach Chris Sale or the Giants approach Madison Bumgarner about an extension, their annual salary demands will be begin with a three. That’s the market now.

Adding three years and $90M to Tanaka’s contract puts him at six years and $157M total from 2017-22. That’s Cole Hamels (six years, $144M) and Jon Lester (six years, $155M) money. Seems much more reasonable to me. Let’s call it six years and $160M total with a Lackey clause added at the end. That takes Tanaka through 2022 and his age 33 season if the elbow holds up. That’s just young enough to land another nice contract, a la James Shields two years ago.

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

Now for the two big questions. One, why would Tanaka do this? Money, duh. He’d forego free agency for a large guarantee now. Tanaka would be trading his maximum earning potential, meaning a free agent bidding war, for the guaranteed cash upfront. Keep in mind Tanaka has already made a fortune playing baseball. The Yankees have paid him $66M the last three years, plus there’s whatever he made in Japan. He’s presumably comfortable enough financially that he can roll the dice in 2017 and shoot for the big free agent payday next winter. And if he gets hurt next year, he won’t opt out and will still have $67M coming to him. It’s a good spot to be in, that’s for sure.

And two, why would the Yankees do this? To keep their ace and avoid a free agent bidding war. A bidding war is bad news. Next offseason’s free agent pitching class looks much better than this year’s at the moment — Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish are both scheduled to hit the open market after next season — but that won’t hurt Tanaka. Ace caliber starters are always in demand and teams will be lining up to pay him. Mark Melancon‘s market wasn’t hurt by Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen this winter, was it? Nope. Arrieta and Darvish won’t take money away from Tanaka next offseason and vice versa.

The chances of Tanaka eclipsing five years and $138M — my proposed six-year, $160M deal minus the 2017 season — as a free agent next winter are pretty damn good, I think. The Yankees want to avoid that. They want to get out ahead of market and sign Tanaka without having to worry about the Dodgers or Nationals or whoever swooping in to sign him. Also, the Yankees are short on pitching beyond 2017. Extending Tanaka would help solve that problem.

This offseason is the best time to sign Tanaka to an extension because it’s pretty much the only time to sign him to an extension. Sure, the two sides could negotiate a new deal during the season, but players usually try to avoid that. They like to focus on baseball and not contract talks once Spring Training begins. Maybe Tanaka is different. Maybe he’s more than willing to talk contract during the 2017 season. Who knows.

Waiting until next offseason, right before the opt-out, gives Tanaka all the leverage. That’s what happened with Sabathia years ago. The Yankees had their backs up against the wall because they didn’t want Sabathia to actually use the opt-out and create a bidding war. Waiting until after next season would give Tanaka that same leverage. The Yankees at least have some leverage right now. There’s less urgency. They don’t have to sign him, after all.

I don’t expect the Yankees to get serious about an extension with Tanaka this offseason. They seem too dug on in getting under the luxury tax threshold in the near future, and a big money contract would complicate that. Also, it’s not really the club’s M.O. to sign players to extensions. Brett Gardner is the only notable exception in the last eight or nine years. If the Yankees are going to go against the grain though, Tanaka’s the kind of player you do it for.

Extension or no extension, Tanaka is the Yankees’ best player and therefore most indispensable player. The pending opt-out makes 2017 a huge season for both Tanaka and the team. He wants to put himself in the best possible position going into free agency, and the Yankees want him to pitch well because it’ll help them win. The better he pitches, the more likely he is to opt-out though. It’s a Catch-22. An extension now would solve a lot of problems.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

If you’re interested in such things, and I assume you are if you’re reading RAB, Jeff Sullivan examined Aroldis Chapman’s potential future. Namely, what happens when he inevitably starts to lose velocity? Throughout his career, Chapman has been much better when he sits 100+ in an outing than 97-98, though he was still really good even at the lower end of the velocity. Give it a read.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Rangers, and Islanders are all playing, and there are a handful of college basketball games on the docket too. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.